April 11, 2019
This blog post originally appeared on Carleton College's Admissions Website on April 9, 2019. The piece is written by Lucas Demetriades regarding the recent speech given by Karin Lips, President of NeW, as the weekly convocation speaker at Carleton College.
I’ve written about Carleton’s convos before, but for those who don’t know, they’re basically weekly guest speaker events. Every Friday, Carleton brings Some Notable Person to campus so that they can speak to whoever attends the event inside Skinner Memorial Chapel. Today, I want to take some time to write about my favorite convo I’ve attended so far.
During my freshman year, I’ve attended a number of convos (short for convocations), and although each one has engaged and inspired me, last Friday’s was the first to challenge me. The guest speaker was Karin Lips, a conservative political commentator and organizer. Her talk at Carleton was titled “Feminism and Conservatism: Dividing Lines and Possibilities for Unity.” In this presentation, Ms. Lips, founder of the Network of Enlightened Women (NeW), took the opportunity to speak to us about the nature of feminism, its relationship with conservatism, and how she affirms that one can embody both.
I loved this: as most people are aware, the majority of American college campuses are overwhelmingly liberal, to the point where there are multiple examples of the very notion of intellectual practice sort of collapsing in on itself as the political majority grows intolerant of dissenting ideas and speech. In light of this, I’m proud of Carleton for inviting a speaker that challenged the dominant stance on campus. Although we may not agree, and disagreement can be uncomfortable, I would argue that (healthy) discomfort is one of the most important aspects of a successful higher education. If one avoids being pushed outside of their comfort zone, they vastly limit their ability to broaden their horizons and think critically and elastically. When college cultures and even administrations foster ideological echo chambers in academia, students and professors alike run the risk of becoming too confident in their own ideas, too complacent in their sense of consensus, perhaps even mistaking opinions for facts. Ironically, extremely liberal campuses often embody the very closed-mindedness to which the modern left considers itself anathema.
By inviting a speaker like Karin Lips, Carleton offered its students the opportunity to hear out “the other side.” In so doing, Carleton gave us the chance to reconsider our own ideas in the context of opposing ones, which can engender both greater tolerance of and respect for those who disagree (a vastly important skill in the United States’ current political landscape, in which civility appears to be some sort of dying art) and encourage critical re-examination of one’s own beliefs. I strongly disagree with the idea that allowing controversial views on campus can be “dangerous”: Carleton’s choice in convocation speakers reflects its trust in the student body’s ability to handle moral and political considerations on its own, as opposed to needing “protection” from certain types of thought. When a conservative speaker comes to a liberal campus, the students who listen either get to sharpen their argument, gain a better understanding their own views in the context of others with which they disagree, or they maybe learn something new, and shift their perspective on a matter! It’s a win-win; to think that students are at risk of indoctrination to some sort of evil ideology through mere exposure to right-of-center talking points disrespects both the independent intellects of these students and the moral character of the invited speaker.
I loved the point Ms. Lips made about the ironic hypocrisy found in some strains of modern feminism. Essentially, she argued that if we truly believe women to be equal, independent, free-thinking beings, and furthermore intend to act accordingly, one must accept and should also celebrate the diversity of opinion among them. To automatically accuse a conservative woman of something like “internalized misogyny” is to frame their dissenting view as invalid on the basis of their gender, which is, in my opinion, the true misogyny in that example. Women are individuals, with the ability and right to speak and act for themselves, and so to expect them to all hold the same opinions is absurd, and to insist upon it on the basis of some sort of loyalty to the hegemony is, to put it plainly, sexist. Indeed, most of the assembly seemed to agree on this, the audience’s applause highlighting a point of unity Ms. Lips was able to unearth, vocalize, and celebrate.
However, some of her other arguments gave me more pause. Which is great! Again, I’ve never been able to play more than the role of passive listener during a convo before, so the act of analyzing Ms. Lips’ arguments and formulating my own refutations was a unique and invigorating exercise. Firstly, I would point out that the framing of modern feminism as exclusive and overly militant is probably an oversimplification. Although some feminists and feminist groups can certainly twist their movement’s basis to justify extremism or exclusion, I have a feeling such examples are the exception, not the norm. The reason modern or “third-wave” feminism has garnered a mixed reputation in some spheres is likely due to the fact that these extremists are such a vocal minority. And besides, a Crazy Feminist makes for a better news story than a reasonable one, so it’d make sense that we’re exposed to them in the media to a disproportionate extent.
When Ms. Lips discussed the so-called wage gap, she challenged the audience with a study that suggests the wage gap drastically narrows, if not disappears altogether, when earnings data are adjusted for educational background and hours worked. Since women on average work fewer hours than men, her reasoning went, it makes sense that the average woman would earn a lesser sum of money than their average male counterpart by the end of the year. This makes sense. However, it is my understanding that many would argue that the differential in hours worked between men and women is a problem in and of itself. In fact, this exact point was made during question time, and I wasn’t entirely satisfied with how it was answered. Ms. Lips’ response, if I remember correctly, said something to the effect of, the differences in natural lifestyles and goals between men and women accounts for this formal disparity, and to argue that it’s a problem that women tend to work fewer professional hours than men misapplies a simplistic and perhaps outdated measure of success to them. Although this is a fascinating argument, and I would agree that it’s wrong to respond negatively to an empowered woman’s choice to live a life within a more traditional set of gender norms, this doesn’t actively disprove the possibility that there is still, also, a general social norm that discourages other women from pursuing their professional goals within society. Perhaps, in a perfect world, there would still be a differential, tied purely to cumulative differences in psychology and biology, but that differential would be considerably slighter.
Ms. Lips used a similar argument when confronted with the distinct gender imbalance found in law practice: another student used their question to point out that only one in six practicing lawyers are women (the study I found says one in three, but still), asking for an insider’s explanation as to why that is, from a conservative feminist perspective. Her answer was that she herself made a personal choice to stop practicing law in favor of her duties as NeW’s president and founder, so this statistic actually evidences women’s empowerment to make the professional choices that work best for them. However, this was just a personal example. I don’t think one’s personally positive experience in choosing to leave law for the right reasons proves or even suggests that women on the whole share said experience, so I would’ve liked to hear more about her interpretation of that issue in terms of the overall trend. I wish I could have spent more time talking to Ms. Lips personally after her talk, because I would have loved to engage with her more fully on these topics and others. Maybe she’ll see this post somehow (my email’s at the bottom!)?
Ultimately, though, I was really satisfied with Karin Lips’ convocation talk and pleasantly surprised with how the audience took it. Although Carleton is pretty homogeneous with respect to ideological diversity, and we as a community still have work to do when it comes to appreciating and encouraging multi-sided political discourse, I consider myself lucky to attend an institution where this kind of event was even possible. I avoided a couple of other unnamed colleges that I was otherwise deeply in love with because the political climates I discovered there were simply too toxically closed-minded and aggressive. As the reputedly friendly and accepting college that Carleton is, it makes sense that things would be a little better here, and I’ve had many conversations with students on both sides of the arena (personally, I fall somewhere moderately below and slightly to the left of center, at least right now) who share my concern. If I could recommend anything to Carleton itself in light of my favorite convo, it would be to invite more speakers who will come to challenge its students, rather than simply validate their current persuasions. Perhaps put a greater emphasis on assembling a student body with a pronounced diversity of thought during the admissions process, too. Carleton is already a uniquely open, understanding, and compassionate place. In my opinion, this positions us on the precipice of opportunity to shape Carleton into a bastion of ideological diversity and civil discourse in higher education — a leader in the construction of a more reasoned and empathetic future.
Lucas is in his freshman year at Carleton, bringing with him a passion for all things nerdy and a talent for overthinking and awkwardness (and self-deprecation). He hails from Pasadena, California, and yes, he realizes it gets cold out here. Currently wildly undecided, he can see himself attempting a Physics and Cinema and Media Studies double major, although Chemistry, Economics, and Computer Science (among many other subjects) have been tempting him as well. He misses his bearded dragon.